The Black (and Orange) Shadow of the Empire

Published on SK Gaming in February of 2010.

A spectre hangs over Europe, the shadow of a power consistently unrivalled for almost a an entire year. The shade of fnatic still lingers in the subconscious mind of international Counter-Strike and the memories still remain of a time when they were the impossibly high wall awaiting any team who could make it to the final of a major event. All challengers knowing only their very best possible performance could hope to scale those heights and snatch away the glory of another seemingly inevitable title ready to be tossed onto the dragon’s treasure heap back at some black and orange daubed lair. But whether it comes in the form of a smiling and jovial face or a stern and unwavering glare tyranny will always have its enemies, those who wish to see the underdog win and a parity returned to the upper echelons of competition.

The last quarter of a year saw heroes arise who could fight back the fnatic flood and dam it for a period of time long enough to claim their own spoils, stemming what had been a tide of unerring dominance. From Poland came warriors whose exploits are legendary but whose successes rest in pivotal moments rather than every passing. Their names ever-shifting in a protean manner the world knows them by their aliases which are etched into the history books of the great tournaments. Summoning their own herculian effort and leaving nothing outside of the server the mighty AGAiN struck first and most brutally against fnatic’s reign.

By the time fnatic had recovered from the soul destroying blow of their nuke loss not even a f0rest channelling the powers of the thunder god could hold back the relentless onslaught of AGAiN’s terrorist train offensive. 2009’s ‘golden five’ had been bested in the biggest tournament by the last half decade’s own as AGAiN managed to once more uncannily choose the right handful of days in a year to be the best team in the world while fnatic once again held sway over so many others but those key few which hold so much prestige.

A last minute appearance at DreamHack Winter could have seen the Swedish titans right the course of their ship but instead it was time for Denmark to provide its own revolutionaries to challenge the black and orange empire. In an all out back-and-forth war the once great mTw spun a one-time only lineup into a run through the playoffs which was blistering and brilliant enough to leave their victory over fnatic merely an episode in the serial narrative of their own accomplishment rather than the main story arc.

GuX returned to the shadows as ominously as he had emerged from them. The fellowship was broken and the lineup which had confused its enemies, intimidated its lessers and gelled in an instant to dominate the elite of international Counter-Strike suddenly threatened to turn into something entirely different. fnatic’s performances had been so stunning and impossibly consistent that it seemed the only way from here on out was down, regardless of how good their new team may be. The perfect lineup for the perfect moment was no more as both the lineup and moment had passed on and neither could go back or be recreated exactly.

Still when a team towers above all the rest tournament in and tournament out sometimes going down does not mean relinquishing the top spot. In 2009 fnatic were the first, second and third best teams of the year. With GuX gone and threat eager to impress they once more showed their ability to come together in a matter of weeks into a coherent unit at WEM, in their most feared battleground of China, and showed that while others may have taken crept closer and inhabited those second and third slots they still remained number one. Their shortened tower still held a view above those being built up by their rivals. The ability to seemingly at will outskill any team who were not playing at their absolute peaks, with players of similar raw talent, may have waned back down to mortal levels but the quality which had always defined fnatic remained: consistency.

fnatic’s sheer title haul since 2006 may not be as incredible as it could be but the same reason it doesn’t quite sparkle as brightly as it could have is also the reason the team will go down as one of the greatest to ever play Counter-Strike: the sheer number of semi-finals and finals at major events fnatic has reached is beyond belief. That ability to always play up to a certain level no matter what the map or opponent dictates is as enjoyable for the impartial observer to watch in creating great matchups as it is frustrating for the fanatical fan as he sees the team again and again within striking distance and yet at times unable to land that finishing blow.

At the IEM European Finals the call went out again for a champion of the people, someone who could stand against a fnatic who were rolling through the tournament with ease. While every other team fought and clawed and inched their way through the tournament fnatic took off with such pace nobody could get near to them. Their annihilation of a Ravens team who had caused problems for so many other top teams seemed merely the harbinger of a dominant finals performance over mousesports which would leave the European scene with a simple message to consider in the coming months: fnatic is still the best team in the world and while we may not longer grind teams down as quickly we grind them exceedingly finely.

mouz had been pushed to the limit a number of times already in the tournament and again and again had to reach down deep into their reserves and come up with everything they had, and some things few knew they had, to escape elimination. Surely the script for the final had been penned and now it was merely for the players to read their parts and take their places? The moment called for another hero and in another form as mousesports provided an encore performance of playing from behind in crucial moments and channelling unknown magic to escape and thrive within daunting and improbable scenarios. fnatic still brought their consitency and still came with quality play from their ranks but again a hero, lifted up by the sheer momentum of the struggle, had scaled their wall and now clasped the trophy. Yet the nature of that performance and of fnatic’s own path to the finals did not remove them from their overall throne. The shadow still remained and the tyrant still reigned.

The Global Finals approach and the drums of war can be heard on the horizon as armies march ever closer. Smoke begins to fill the sky and the hour of battle draws near. A year ago fnatic seized the Global Finals title and set forth on their rampage through international competition. That event proved the starting point for the dominance of fnatic but what does this Global Finals signify? Is this a moment when fnatic retain its #1 status or will it fall through the sheer fury and force of another’s performance? Should they lose may it be deep in the tournament and in such a manner which leaves them still #1 but for an outstanding single series performance by a good but not perhaps not yet great team?

Will another juggernaut rise up and dominate 2010 to the beat of their own drum or does this event mark the beginning of an age of parity where a handful of teams fight over the year’s titles and each takes one during its own moment? Do fnatic become the people’s heroes as their return to the top is cheered on or do they play the villains of 2010 standing in the way of other hopefuls for CS glory?

That shadow still remains and the tyrant still reigns… for now.